St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Early Spring on the Farm

Margo has been home now for her 3rd day.  She can walk around some with a walker, but still needs help getting dressed and getting out of a chair and bed.  However she is improving some each day.  She is still in a lot of pain, but it is different from the pre-surgery pain and we are hopeful that this is just the pain left over from major surgery healing.  She had much work done on her back and neck!   Thursday we take her to Barron for an outpatient occupational therapy session and an outpatient physical therapy session.  OT is getting back to the daily functioning to be independent and PT is regaining lost strength.  It is likely to be a year-long recovery, but coming along good so far. 
WiFi reaches the porch where Margo enjoys the outdoors

For the past two days, with the very mild weather, Margo sat for several hours out on the porch and enjoyed the birds, cars driving by, farmers working in the fields and some visitors who dropped in to see how things were going.  "Much more interesting than in a hospital room and bed!"  We put on the little porch to the east to give Dad an outdoor place when in his last 2 years parkinsons limited his ability to get around. The old motorized recliner/lift chair has sat there for 15 years and plugging it in -- still works!   We picked it up for free as it was not all there, and converted the missing electrical transformer to a 12 volt battery and Dad used it for his outdoor port into the world. 

A busy week ahead for me with two reunions scheduled.   I am helping out with the Duncan Yo-Yo employees reunion on Thursday afternoon at the Luck WI Senior Citizens Center, a block away from the old Duncan Yo-Yo plant.  The plant closed in the early 1960s and so we expect employees from about my age up to Edna Lawson at age 99.  

Edna was promoted to a job something like office manager and when asked by her fellow employees why she was promoted over many others who had been their longer, stated "I got the position because the distance from my navel to the floor is exactly the length of a Yo-Yo string."   I think that probably shushed the complainers as they pondered this fact.    

My 98 year old neighbor, Jennie Iverson Nelson also plans to attend.  "I was the fastest string cutter/twister in the whole plant" back in the late 1940s or early 50s.  Should be a fun time with folks reminiscing about a business that employed 1000s of people and offered women a good job too, something hard to find in those days.  The plant started in about 1946 and lasted until 1964.   
Jennie and Margo visiting a few years ago--Jennie shows some handwork.  She crochets, knits, writes poetry and recently renewed her driver's license at age 98

The other reunion is at the college in River Falls, UWRF, for those who went through the physics program.  About a dozen years ago I nudged the physics faculty in River Falls to put on a physics reunion and the 25 or so of us who showed up from all different years had a good time as well as donated a little money for the department. The faculty decided to try again and Friday and Saturday have invited former students to a picnic, tour, visit etc.   I looked at the attending list and see at least 5 students from my era.  I think most of us from my era will be retired, except for my friend Reg Ronningen from Frederic WI who wraps up a long career helping to run a cyclotron at Michigan State University this fall.   (A cyclotron is something like the cyclopes of Greek mythology)
Not sure if this is a cyclotron diagram or not, but it looks scientific and it came from MSU.  Below is a pair of glasses for a cyclopes.  

Farming and gardening underway in the farm with our renter digging up the fields.  He plans to plant some soybeans, wheat and alfalfa and corn this year.  I think he heard about Margo maybe getting a herd of beef calves as a rehab activity and is planning to help out!

 Planning to move our pumpkin and squash garden from the cabin to the farm this spring.  Two garden tractors breaking up the sod west of the yard.  

Skunk Cabbage and Marsh Marigolds in the springs along the St Croix River north of the falls.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Margo Back to the Farm

After 2 weeks in the hospital for neck and back surgery, Margo is home on the farm again.  She has a walker and wheelchair and is still weak and needs help, but is enjoying the early spring warm up by sitting out on the porch watching the wildlife.   Quite a change from the hospital!

Looking from the back -- two sets of lego scaffolding on either side of the spine to hold the vertebrae stable and away from the spinal cord where it had been pinching it and causing pain and weakness

Side view showing the pegs, screws and other stabilizing hardware.  Included, but not visible are some pieces of bone removed from the pelvis and stuck in the back.  

Margo is very sore and weak in the arms and legs, and they are painful, but it is more the pain from the surgery than the old back pain, so it should gradually disappear.  

About all she can do right now is practice working with her hands, arms and doing some walking.  The neck brace is likely to be on for three months.   April 23rd is the first outpatient therapy session which is in Barron Wisconsin or maybe Rice Lake -- not quite settled which Mayo branch is closer or more easily scheduled.  She has a long way to go, but she is home, functioning and with a few oxycodone every once in a while, getting along fine. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Maple Season Complete

About a month after tapping the first maples, today we pulled the taps and declared season over -- an average season with 1 quart of syrup per tap hole.  Average actually means we are pretty happy!

This season was interrupted by Margo's neck/back surgery so we didn't tap as many trees as usual.  

Margo is at Mayo hospital in Rochester until Thursday when she will return to the farm.  She had some complications after surgery that made her arms and hands weak, so they wanted her to do rehab there where lots of support was available. 

She feels good; her pain is still gone, but she has to spend time trying to regain the upper body strength, and still has to wear a neck brace around-the-clock for 3 months.  She can walk with a walker, but for any distance, she uses a wheelchair for now, as holding on to the walker is not too secure yet.  She expects to recover, but slowly.  If the pain stays away, the main purpose of the surgery is accomplished. 

Scott is down there and keeping Margo under control while I came back to finish up the maple syruping.  

Mallards on Dub Lake


Pulling the taps
A successful year 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Margo Improving!

A week after Margo's back and neck surgery and with only a few setbacks, she is doing well and in a Mayo rehab room for another week as she regains functionality. 

The surgery went well, the repairs are done, and the chronic severe pain seems gone.  She has a neck brace on all the time for the next 3 months, and has to be quite careful in using her upper back, but things should gradually improve with the full recovery taking about a year. 

She had a weakened right hand and arm after surgery, but that is improving and should get back to normal too.  Now she is practicing the functions of daily life in rehab and coming along gradually.  

The surgery was very extensive with a lot of hardware and bone grafts.  The surgeon was quite pleased with the result and after a few days of grogginess and difficulties, Margo is back to feeling pretty good and looking forward to coming back to the farm in about another week   She will continue outpatient therapy locally for some time after that. 

She had planned to do her rehab at Mayo Barron, WI, but the complications with the arm kept her at Mayo for an additional week.  

Maple sap season seems to be over, so probably will pull the taps this weekend.  Been a somewhat busy season between spending time at Rochester and back here at the farm.  The season will end up being about an average one with close to 1 quart of syrup per tap.  Not a great season, and not a poor one, just average.  

It will be nice to finish the season and get Margo back home painfree!   She has had almost a year of pain, the last six months quite severe, and two surgeries -- lower back in December and not the upper/neck in March.  Hopefully the back is done.   Her recent cancer check says no signs of that returning either!

As of April 1, I have been in remission for 2 full years from myasthenia gravis (medication free).  So that is great too,  Maybe by later this summer we will both be fully functional!

The frogs have been croaking this week.  The wild crocuses are blooming on the sand barrens.  Fifty or more trumpeter swans are hanging out on Bass Lake just north of Cushing, raiding the fields during the daytime and resting on the lake at night.  Quite a spectacle!

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Margo Surgery today

Margo went into upper back/neck surgery this morning and as of 2:30 pm the surgery is finishing.  The back surgeon said the surgery went well and although it may or may not reduce the pain, it will prevent the condition of the pinched spine from progressing to paralysis and even worse pain.

The Doctor's notes are somewhat worse case scenario, but read like this:
We discussed with her today a fairly extensive C2 to T1 decompressive laminectomy with foraminotomies to address her C5 radiculopathy and weakness followed by instrumented fusion, likely C2 down to T3 (neck to mid back).
We discussed all the risks including (but not limited to) death, paralysis,
stroke, blindness, infection, pseudarthrosis, persistent pain, CSF leak, bleeding, transfusion
complications, instrumentation failure, swallowing dysfunction, hoarseness, and the need for additional surgery.

What the plan means is to relieve the pinching on the spinal cord and put in some hardware to hold them away from the cord.
The Informed consent -- what can go wrong.

We are waiting for Margo to return from the recovery room later today.  A few weeks will have to go by to see how things turned out relative to pain.  The plan is to stay at St Mary's (Mayo) hospital until Monday then move to the Barron WI hospital rehab center for a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, the maple sap quit running with the warm weather, but we have not given up yet as there are a few freezing nights ahead before the season will be over.

The Easter Bunny was out earlier this week on a foggy morning.  

The well dressed deer crossing the road near Wolf Creek WI

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Syrup Barch 2 and Margo prepares for Surgery

Scott and I took off batch 2 of the maple syrup season --about 6 gallons this time.  Added to the 4 gallons of the first batch, we are officially 1/2 of a normal syrup season, even though the trees never have run very heavy yet.  

With only 75 buckets out this year (we are retrenching as Margo has back surgery the 2nd of April and we are likely to be hovering around Rochester Mayo for a week or so), and the normal bucket yield of 1 quart per tap hole, we should get about 19 gallons in a normal year.  So the 10 gallons means we are at least 1/2 way there.  

I use an old Cub Cadet for hauling wood at the lake when the Ford tractor is tied up with the sap tank.  Got it out and hauled a load yesterday and noticed the front right tire was showing tube.  Now, showing boob can be a good thing even appreciated by old guys, but showing a little tube is not good.   
The 40 year old tires have gotten rotten and started to split.  So it is off to the store sometime to get a new 4.80/4.00-8 set of front tires.  These have tubes in them even though originally they are labelled "tubeless."   

Spring and fall are the favorite times to cut wood on the farm as the temps are not too warm or cold and we can get around in the woods fine.  We plan to use part wood heat on the farm if we winter here next season.  

Margo spent Thursday having pre-surgery checks and all is OK for Tuesday, April 2, surgery on her upper back/neck.  The plan is to put in a metal scaffold to straighten, spread and strengthen the backbone so it doesn't deteriorate more and no longer pinches the spinal cord causing intense pain all of the time.  They also will take bone from her hip to add to the existing structure to firm things up.  

The operation is much like what one does to a building, like a barn, with a sagging roof (yes, I am still working on getting the barn back in shape--but slowly).  

The plan:  Margo has surgery Thursday, stays in St Mary's hospital in Rochester until Monday, we take her to Barron hospital for a couple of weeks of rehab and then she will be home later in April for up to a year of recovery.  The biggest hope is that this second operation (first was to fix the lower back) will relive the constant pain and let her get back to living normally again.   Barron is part of the Mayo system and as I spent most of my life as a Mayo employee, our Mayo supplemental health insurance pays better if we stay in the Mayo system.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Syrup in the Bottle, One Day Old

The first small batch of syrup -- light colored, pleasant flavor and only 4 gallons (1 gallon to our crew member Dave)

The lake, in an effort to set an early opening record, is about 1/3 open this morning.  I think the earliest before was about March 30th with normal about April 15th 

Sometimes the snow catches us before we have put things away.

A new spring snow often stimulates maples to drip overnight.  This morning, about 1/4 of this bucket was filled after the 5 pm emptying and it was dripping already at 7 am when I first checked.

On the soybean stubble, a pair of Sandhill Cranes does some spooning. 

The deer just checked me out from their corn stubble breakfast.
Marv -- see the big down oak in the back of the field across from  your farm.

The spring snows are still pretty even though they are annoying to folks who have come through the winter and are thinking about gardening rather than shoveling snow. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

First Maple Syrup of the Season

We tapped some of the maple trees early this year -- the 10th and 11th we put out about 75 buckets or so as it got so warm that we were sure the trees would run.  Now 10 days later, we finally cooked down a small batch of about 4 gallons of syrup. 

As the rain sprinkled down this afternoon (the first day of Spring), we are wondering if this will be one of those seasons that get too warm too soon and make maple syrup production a bust.  However, the last two years most of our production was in the last 2 weeks of April, so we haven't given up, and unlike our helper, Dave, we haven't put away the snowplow for the season yet. 

 No snow in the woods left

Robins, redwings, bluebirds, grackles, ducks, geese, swans, sandhills and other birds are back and making a cheerful noise each morning 

Turkey males have started gobbling and displaying

The first day of spring the sun came up directly in the east

My 6:30am firing and tank filling is not quite in the dark

The first 10 days of warm weather haven't really run much sap yet.  The forecast for the next 10 days looks ideal.

Margo goes for a pre-surgery check next Thursday and then has surgery on her neck and upper back on April 2nd.  The schedule is to be in the hospital until Monday the 6th and then head to Barron WI (a hospital rehab bed) for a couple of weeks.  She will wear a neck brace for 3 months.  She is hopeful this will get rid of the constant pain that stops her from doing most anything.  A pain in the neck is not so funny for the person who has it.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Nevers Dam on the St Croix this Morning

My son, Scott, stopped at Nevers Dam on the St Croix this morning and walked out to the edge of the berm where the dam began on the Wisconsin side to try and photograph the bald eagle's nest on the island below. 

The close up photos are taken with the Nikon p510 with a 42x zoom plus digital zoom 

Normal view down river without zoom.  This is just below Nevers Dam site. 

Looking up river --the ice breaker rock piles that protected the dam show